Good enough for France, but not Quebec

Good enough for France, but not Quebec

By Andrew Greenfield

I have recently returned to Quebec, Canada from a family trip to Europe.

We spent time visiting relatives and towards the end of the vacation while in Paris, France I witnessed one of the most satisfying things I have ever seen in my life.

On Thursday 21 August, 2014 we went to the Eiffel Tower – the kids had been wanting to go for what seemed like an eternity and were so excited to finally be going.

Around 6pm that evening the area around one of the world’s most famous landmarks was a scene of sheer beauty.
The magnificent structure itself glinting in the evening sun and surrounded by thousands of locals and tourists alike.

There were people of all shapes and sizes, colours of skin, and dressed in all manner of items of clothing – pertaining to their beliefs – religious or otherwise. Marry that with the amount of languages you could hear (I lost count when nearing 10) and it made for a wonderful, cosmopolitan, multi-cultural scene.
Members of the public were chatting with the few officers of the Police Nationale who were interspersed around the area on duty.

I was happy to be there and delighted that my young, impressionable children could see that it is OK to be different and that given the chance, everyone can actually get along.

And then it happened. Serenity shattered in a matter of seconds.

A man and wife strolling toward the area underneath the Eiffel Tower.

The gentleman, dressed in summer attire – shorts, shirt and sandals, just like me. Very western in appearance. Nothing wrong with that, I hear you say. And I’d agree.

His lady companion however, was dressed in dark, floor-length, traditional Islamic dress, including headscarf and niqab (the Islamic veil which covers the face and everything but the eyes).

A small slit for the eyes. That’s all that could be seen of this woman. I’m not OK with that in public and find it oppressive, offensive, and utterly degrading to women.

For me, there’s no place for that in a country where women are, quite rightly, equal, and certainly not seen or indeed treated like second class citizens.

France has well-documented social problems and has the largest muslim population in the European Union – some 6.5 million French citizens in fact – or roughly 10% of the country’s population.

The French, perhaps better late than never, are trying to do something to tackle their social problems.

In France the niqab and face coverings are banned, and have been for a number of years.
If you’re seen out in public contravening their laws there’s a 150 Euro fine and, if proven, a 30,000 Euro fine for anyone forcing a woman to cover her face. That the latter part needs to exist at all speaks volumes doesn’t it.

So armed with the above, the police in France are in a position to act when necessary.

The couple described above – the guy dressed for the beach and his lady dressed for going nowhere near the seaside, were approached by the police officer.
The officer spoke directly to the woman and politely asked her to remove the face covering.
He was ignored. Her companion attempted to speak for her.

The police officer immediately made the male aware that he was not being spoken to.
The male spoke again, and in English. He claimed that they could not understand French.

So the police officer did something that I certainly would not have done had I been in his position. He switched to English.
Bear in mind he is a French police officer, doing his job in France. France is, unlike here, a unilingual country and does not have to suffer all of the ineffable language debate bullshit that we annoyingly put up with in Quebec and Canada (another discussion for another day maybe).

The police officer, calmness personified, patiently explained to the lady that she could not have her face covered in public and needed to remove the niqab part of her traditional dress immediately.

The woman did not respond. The male with her laughed.
They began to walk off.
They got about 10 yards before the police officer caught up with them.

His exact words ‘I was cool with you before, but I’m now not cool. Remove it or you will both be arrested.’
Again the male spoke, again he was cut off.

‘The face covering goes now. Last chance.’

Never mind the police officer applying the letter of the law, this was common sense at work.

The male spoke to his wife and the face covering was removed.

Why, oh why, oh why can’t this happen on Canadian streets?

Sadly, it’s because we’re a little more tolerant here in our part of North America and I really wish we weren’t.

Although there will be some who will attempt to explain why it’s OK to wear a niqab, for me there’s simply no discernible reason whatsoever why this offensive garment from the dark ages should be allowed in public today. In any country, let alone a western, civilised one.

Here in Quebec we’re far too tolerant. And it’ll come back to haunt us in the end. Just give it time.

I really felt for the woman I’ve written about above. She was completely subservient to her male counterpart.
That, for me, has no place here.

Earlier this year, the Parti Québécois campaigned during the provincial election to not allow religious symbols or dress to be on show while in public office. While I’ll never be a supporter of Québec’s separatist movement in any shape or form, I would have supported that as it would mean there’s no place for garments like the niqab in provincial government buildings.

I’d actually have taken it a stage further and would have outlawed religious face coverings in public – just like in France.
It seems to work there and is to be applauded.

I would like to see religious garments used for covering the face completely banned in public in Quebec and across Canada.

I don’t think I’ll see that in my lifetime, but I continue to live in hope.

Editorials and opinion pieces represent the opinions of their authors.
LifeinQuebec.com maintains a socially and politically neutral ground for the exchange of ideas.

Categories: News, Opinion

About Author

Andrew Greenfield

Andrew Greenfield moved to Quebec in 2009. He is part of the team responsible for the publishing company behind LifeinQuebec.com and Life in Québec Magazine. He has been involved with online and print media since 2001. He is passionate about cricket, is a qualified coach, and his real ambition is to start a cricket team in Quebec City – something he freely admits is probably beyond him. Follow him on Twitter @GreenfieldAndy

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